Plastic waste being placed in a bin liner.

Plastics Recycling

Plastic is an incredibly popular material due to its low cost, versatility and durability, and is used in a wide range of applications, including packaging, drinks bottles, medical equipment, electronic equipment and toys.

Many of these qualities also create problems at the end of a plastic products life, as the material remains for many years in the natural environment if not collected for recycling. What's more, some plastics are not currently easily recycled, requiring safe disposal instead.


The most common plastic items recycled in north London are plastic bottles and packaging such as empty food pots, tubs and trays. There are many different types of plastic, with the most common types found in packaging including Polyethylene Terephthalate (PET), High Density Polyethylene (HDPE) and Polypropylene (PP). Plastics recycling can be confusing, but the information below should make it straightforward to ensure you are dong it right.

What plastics can you recycle in north London?

Most plastic packaging at home can be recycled. However, some types of plastic cannot be recycled. This is because of difficulties in sorting, or issues with packaging being made from a mixture of materials that are hard to separate. In order for items to be recycled, there also need to be cost-effective markets for the recycled materials.

Visit our mixed plastic packaging for a detailed list of all the plastics that can, or cannot, be recycled in north London.

Plastic recycling tips

Recycling your plastics items isn’t always as simple as just throwing them into your recycling bin. Below are some top tips on how to recycle plastics.

  • Lids and tops on containers – both containers and lids can be recycled. It’s helpful for the recycling process if lids are removed from containers. However, don’t worry if you accidentally leave the lid on a plastic container as this will pop off later in the sorting process.
  • Give all containers and bottles a quick rinse – you can use old dishwater for this, they just need to look clean.
  • Leave labels on
  • Remove all film lids
  • Squash containers to save space

What happens to your plastic recycling?

All the plastic collected in the mixed recycling containers in north London is taken to the local materials recovery facility (MRF) run by Biffa Waste Services Ltd where the plastic is separated from other items and sent for reprocessing. Mixed plastics will often be baled and transported to specialist plastics recovery facilities (PRFs) for further sorting.

All the plastic bottles collected for recycling are sorted into different types and colours. The bottles are then cleaned and separated by type of plastic, ground into flakes or beads, and washed and sorted again. Plastic beads and flakes made from the pre-used bottles are melted down to make new products.

The collected plastic pots, tubs and trays are taken to the MRF where they are separated from other items, squashed and sent for reprocessing. The clean plastics are separated by type of plastic, ground into beads or flakes and washed and sorted again. The plastic beads and flakes made are melted down to make new products.

Plastic bag recycling involves chipping the bags into pellets that can then be reprocessed into new reusable bags.

Where your plastic recycling goes

NLWA has a contract with Biffa Waste Services Ltd to process and separate recyclable material into its component parts at the MRF, and sell it on to manufacturers for making new products. Under this contract, recycled materials must be reprocessed in the UK, where facilities are available. The contract also includes reporting requirements around the movement and end destinations of materials that are exported for reprocessing. We share this information on our What Happens to My Recycling page.